If you’re an employee who notices a significant safety hazard that your employer ignores, you can make a formal complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Commission. The U.S. Department of Labor has a system in place that makes reporting OSHA violations simple and protects you against reprisal from your employer. However, if you’re an employer, don’t worry about inaccurate complaints, because OSHA still investigates every report for accuracy.
Common OSHA Violations
To meet the requirements of an OSHA complaint, an employee must prove that their employer failed to prevent a hazard that could cause death or serious injury. The U.S. Department of Labor released a 2015 list of the top 10 most frequently cited violations across all industries. Three common complaint examples listed were:
- Lack of fall prevention equipment in use while working
- Failure of ladders to meet proper safety standards to prevent falls
- Electrical hazards created by improper use of electrical tools and other equipment
Deciding to File an OSHA Complaint
OSHA recommends that, as an employee, you should bring any safety concerns to the attention of your employer, preferably in writing, before complaining about a violation. However, if you’re afraid a complaint will adversely affect your career and cannot make a complaint to a union or other advocate body, you can file a report of a violation without notifying your employer.
It is also important to know that if your employer asks you to do something that places your life at risk or there is an emergency situation that causes an immediate hazard, OSHA will protect your right to refuse to work without risking your job. You should report these types of emergency hazards immediately by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Procedures of Reporting OSHA Violations
If you’re an employee who has decided to report a safety violation that is not an emergency, you can do so by filing a complaint online. You can also call the OSHA regional or area office to report a violation, or fax or mail a printed form to OSHA. The OSH Act of 1970 protects you from being penalized for reporting OSHA violations, so you can request that your name be kept confidential when making a complaint.
What to Expect if a Complaint Is Filed
If you’re an employer who is the subject of an OSHA complaint, in most cases OSHA will contact you by phone to notify you of the complaint. They will then fax a letter to you detailing the complaint and ask for a response within five days. Respond factually to the complaint:
- Provide supporting documentation if possible
- List any corrective action the business enacted to address concerns
- Send the letter by Certified Mail to obtain proof of receipt
Keep in mind, OSHA usually does not inspect your workplace unless the response is inadequate.